Analysis: Howley making his mark at the Arms Park

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This season has certainly been one to remember for Cardiff RFC, winning the WRU National Cup and challenging all the way in the Principality Premiership, even though we came up short in the end.

No small part of that has been due to the recruitment work done by Steve Law, bringing together a squad that has more than enough quality to compete at this level, has the depth to keep that up throughout a season, and is happy to do their bit for the betterment of the team.

One of the players who has put their hand up in all those senses is Edd Howley. Brought into the club by Law after the sad mis-season demise of Neath, the full-back, who can also cover the wing if required, has been one of the Blue and Blacks key players in the second half of the season.

With 22 appearances under his belt, 18 starts and four games off the bench, he has scored a stunning 19 tries, bringing up a century of points for the season thanks to 10 off the kicking tee as well.

These performances have really caught the eye, with many supporters calling for Cardiff Blues to take a look at the talented 23-year-old, myself certainly included. As a result, I’ve had a look at the televised Cardiff RFC games this year to nail down some of his best attributes.

On the defensive side Edd Howley has had a strong season as Cardiff RFC pushed towards the top of the Principality Premiership, although the highlight was undoubtedly in the WRU National Cup Final as he made the try saving tackle on Jay Baker.

Not only the tackle, but the positioning, footwork and speed to cover across after a two-on-one situation, and then the technique to make the tackle at full tilt, it was a moment worthy of winning the trophy.

Beyond that he’s put himself into defensive positions that allow him to cover across when kicks are put through and line breaks are made, but what we are yet to see conclusively is how he deals with high kicks.

There is noticeable lack of kicking in the Premiership as opposed to the professional level, meaning his ability to cover the back field and secure possession out of the sky is something that would need to be tested before any step up is made.

One of Howley’s greatest attribute is undoubtedly his right foot, which is very close to professional quality.

In terms of sheer kicking power he has a hammer in his boot, with the clearance in the first kick travelling a solid 50 metres and pinning Pontypridd back in their own half, but it’s the placement of the second kick that is most impressive, with Gareth Davies having to step into touch to collect it and giving Cardiff field position.

Add in some excellent striking off the ball and you have a very good footballer, although the improvement required to step up to the next level sees a consistency required that hopefully would come with full-time training.

It’s with ball-in-hand that Howley has really stood out this season though, and what has put him on many radars as a player with the potential to step up to the next level.

The mix of balance and speed means he can step and accelerate into space that isn’t even obvious, and can do it from different positions around the field, whether that is a kick return, coming into the attack line from full-back or a kick return from deep.

Without wishing to compare or put any pressure on, the way he carries is reminiscent of Stuart Hogg, especially in the second clip as he identifies a mis-match against a prop and makes a line break with the ball in two hands before putting the winger into space.

However, it’s the end product that has been most impressive this season.

That carrying ability translates perfectly into some high quality finishing, with Howley’s eye for the line taking over the whitewash those 19 times, plenty thanks to his own skill rather than just a walk-in.

The first two clips are obvious examples of that; the power, the pace, the footwork. The final two clips are evidence of more than just a strong runner though.

In one he hits the line perfectly, putting the winger into space but having the awareness to track the run and stay available for the return pass, while the other is a superb piece of individual X Factor, kicking ahead at close to top pace and weighting it perfectly to back himself to beat the full-back in a foot race.

Hopefully I have painted a picture of a talented young player that deserves a chance at the professional level, and could well be worth a shot for Cardiff Blues with a lengthy pre-season and Celtic Cup campaign coming up.

Howley is someone who can capture a crowd’s attention any time he gets his hands on the ball, but training in a professional environment will be ideal to help iron out the inconsistencies in his game that are currently holding him back.

Of course, with budgets tight and time scarce in professional rugby, it would be a risk, but Cardiff Rugby has always backed an underdog and if at all possible, I think Howley could well be a worthwhile signing.

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